My evening with Michelle

Seeing Michelle Williams in Adrian Hodges’ film “My Week with Marilyn”, I was amazed at how she pulled off the impossible. She looks nothing like Marilyn Monroe, and yet she was completely successful in convincing us, the audience, that all of the other characters were seeing Marilyn up there on the screen. And make no mistake about it, the entire film hinged on her ability to pull off this seemingly impossible feat.

It was also one of those rare films that provides real insight into some very intricate personalities. The film’s central thesis, which was hiding just behind the sweet little romance between Marilyn and young Colin Clark, was that Marilyn Monroe and Sir Laurence Olivier, as opposite as they seemed, were actually two of a kind — talents of such overwhelming power that they were both essentially monsters, more less toxic to ordinary mortals in their path.

Yet to me the most fascinating aspect of the story was the spectacle of two such larger than life geniuses — Marilyn and Sir Lawrence — coming into contact, finding their respective muses completely incompatible, essentially going to war with each other, and yet somehow recognizing each other as two fellow aliens among the ordinary humans.

Olivier’s monstrous ego and vanity, Monroe’s all-devouring emotional neediness, these were not random personality traits, but were the essential demons that drove their art.

One thing that’s wonderful about Colin Clark’s peek inside the making of “The Prince and the Showgirl” is knowing that the very next projects Olivier and Monroe would each do after this failed film would be their finest work. Arguably the frustration of trying to combine their incompatible talents drove each of them to find their quintessential selves.

After all, Olivier’s very next project, John Osborne’s “The Entertainer”, was by far the greatest performance of Olivier’s career, the one in which he laid bare, with unstinting courage, all the terror and self-doubt underneath the egotism and vanity.

And of course Marilyn’s next character, Sugar Kane Kowalczyk in “Some Like it Hot”, was the role she was seemingly born to play. She had clearly thought through the various layers of this complicated character, and the result was sexy, comical, sweetly needy, kooky yet sensible, dizzy but centered, and completely, utterly irresistible.

It’s as though their mutual brush with failure forced both Olivier and Monroe to dig deeper inside themselves, to locate and bring out the very center of their particular genius, and thereby to create their best and most transcendent work.

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